Bunker-Buster Matthew Williams Hosts Ultra-Geeky Underground Chat About Steve Higgins' New Subterranean Exploration Book
This article is more than one year old and was last updated in February 2024.
When urban explorer Matthew Williams invited Steve Higgins on to his YouTube channel to talk about his new book, 'Hidden, Forbidden & Off-Limits', there was no doubt it was going to be a very geeky conversation.
The pair share a passion for secret bunkers and exploring subterranean spaces, which is the topic of Steve's book, that is available now from Amazon or as an audio book from Audible.
With a wealth of knowledge between them and plenty of stories to tell, the live-streamed chat ended up lasting over three hours, attracting more than 2,500 viewers who were interested in learning about the secrets hidden beneath Corsham and the surrounding area.
If you missed the live chat, which took place on Matthew's channel The Secret Vault on Thursday, February 17, 2023, you can watch it back in full below.
Matthew welcomed the author to the live interview saying, "it's nice to see you, Steve. Thanks for popping in and agreeing to do the show. I've been very keen to do this, especially since I've learned that you wrote a book recently. Do you want to tell us a little bit about how that came about?"
Steve told Matthew, "it actually references you quite a lot because our journey is quite similar," which is why Steve asked Matthew to write to foreword to the book. Steve explained that his journey of underground exploration started when he attended Matthew's UFO lectures when he was in his late teens. In one of these lectures, Matthew was talking about the secrets hidden beneath Corsham in Wiltshire and the UFO connection. Steve told the host, "that was the first place I heard about it, and that was the start of the journey, hearing your lectures, it was like the X-Files had come to the UK."
Matthew held up a copy of Steve's new book and told his viewers, "that's his book, 'Hidden, Forbidden & Off-Limits' by Steve Higgins with a foreword by Matthew Williams." Steve said, "yeah, thanks for doing that. It's really good to have your input in it, because there's quite a bit about you in the book, because you have had some quite legendary trips."
"What were you into before that? Then, what were you into when you know pre-teens? Did you read books on weird stuff from the paranormal and all that sort of thing?" Matthew asked.
"I had read a few UFO books. I was into UFOs. So that was my starting point. But then, I grew out of that a bit, lost interest in that, but the conspiracy stuff and the bunkers and the government secrets just naturally overtook it and became the main thing really," Steve replied.
"Did you come for the UFO stuff?" Matthew asked. "Yeah," Steve replied, "I remember ones about Rendlesham and various other topics. So, there were quite a few that we went to."
"What did it make you think then when you were listening to this lecture and it started going off in these weird tangents, not just UFOs, but government bunkers?" Matthew asked.
"You can't help thinking, 'this guy's got to be crazy.' I think if you tell this even now to most people, you'd question it to some extent," Steve said.
At the time, Steve was still a teenager, but he did visit the area with his friend and his older brother to see if what Matthew has said was true. Upon driving through Wiltshire and seeing the mounds and bunker entrances along Westwells Road in Corsham, Steve couldn't deny that there was something beneath the surface. Steve told Matthew that he had to admit that he wasn't crazy and that there was some truth to what he had said all those years ago in his UFO lectures.
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Steve then talked about his first underground trip in a former Bath stone quarry called Hartham Park Quarry. He said, "at the time, it was a museum, so it was an easily accessible one that my mate's brother could take us to without getting into trouble with our parents. We were shown around by David Pollard, who was a bit of a legend in the area."
Steve told Matthew, "I remember from your talk that you'd been there, and you said there's barbed wire down there, and if you carry on, you get to the secret entrances to the government bits, which wasn't really public knowledge or known at that point."
Steve continued, "I asked David about it on the tour, and he confirmed it. He said, 'oh yeah, I know Matthew Williams. Him and his mates were down here, and every chance they got, they were trying to get off the tour route and all that kind of thing.' Of course, it was true. There was a route into Coppenacre from there, as we now know. It just confirmed again that it wasn't just some totally crazy guy at the talk. There was some fact there. There was something really interesting hidden there."
Matthew responded, "it's interesting to hear that David Pollard either remembered me or had heard about me because when I went on the tour, he didn't know who I was at the time. It's very sad to hear that he passed away not long ago. It's just nice to know that he knew my name, and I certainly knew his name. He wrote what you and others have told me is the seminal work on that area, and it's a huge book."
Steve held up a copy of David's giant book, 'Digging Bath Stone' and said, "I know I'm supposed to be talking about my book, but this book is incredible. It was released after his death, so it's kind of his legacy, really."
Steve referenced one of Matthew's recent exploration trips that featured on his YouTube channel where he'd encountered a mysterious sign that read "Heligoland." Steve said, "if you search Google for Heligoland, you'll find nothing. But this book has everything in it. It's so good, and I highly recommend that book."
Continuing his story, Steve told Matthew that it took a few years for him to head back to the area. He explained, "it was only when I started driving and I was just bored one Saturday afternoon. I was flicking through Nick McCamley's book, 'Secret Underground Cities', and recognised some of the place names in the book. I thought, 'let's go and see what's there now.' I emailed Nick, and he told me you could just walk into this place." It sounded too good to be true, but Steve went to investigate with a tiny, two-cell MagLite.
Steve recalls, "There were about 150 steps down into the darkness. We could barely see where we were going, one torch between three of us. We thought, 'what the hell are we in?' That kind of initial feeling when you walk into something like that without really knowing what you're walking into, and it's just there in front of you, is amazing. That's what exploring is all about."
Steve and Matthew then discussed how it can be hard to fully understand the true scale of these fascinating tunnels and subterranean hideouts under Corsham. The area around Corsham is fascinating because of the layers of history that can be found underground. There are old entrances, shafts, and slope shafts all over the place. It is estimated that there are around 60 miles of tunnels underneath the Corsham area. These tunnels were created by the quarrymen and have been repurposed for various uses over the years.
Some of the uses of the tunnels include temporary ammunition stores during World War I, underground aircraft factories and ammunition stores during World War II (WWII), and Burlington, which is a Cold War bunker. The area is still shrouded in secrecy, with places like the infamous Corsham Computer Centre (CCC) being classified and kept under wraps to this day. With so many layers of history and secrets hidden underground, it's hard to get a full understanding of the scale of the whole place.
Steve continued, "there's a chapter in my book about the UFO connections and how you were onto that. But it also recounts your trip to CCC, that time when you literally walked into the reception. I think that's a really funny story." Matthew laughed, "they just kicked us out."
Matthew opened the book and flicked through a couple of pages and said, "you've got some good acknowledgments in there, Andy Quinn, he hated me." Matthew added, "this is a guy who worked for the MOD but was in charge of the underground bunker." Although Andy would never let Matthew into the underground complex beneath Corsham, the urban explorer conceded, "I'm sure if you got to meet him outside of the work environment, he would be a thoroughly lovely chap, but he seemed a bit snidy with me."
Steve offered up a possible explanation, "the thing is, they were kind of bound by their job because at the time you were going around to their gates. It wasn't even officially admitted that these places existed. So, you know, he couldn't tell you anything because he wasn't allowed to."
According to Steve, Andy was part of a small team of maintenance staff who worked underground in Corsham. He said, "those guys who worked down there are actually really passionate about it. They love that place. And they've gone through the stores and set up various areas like the hospital wing and the canteen to show how it would have looked if it ever went into operation. Obviously, the Cold War never kicked off, so it didn't need to."
Photo: © Crown Copyright
Steve concluded, "I think you just hit them at a time where their hands were tied, really." Matthew recalls on time he spoke to a press officer at Corsham and asked her, "what about the bunkers?" She replied, "what bunkers?" A response Matthew found a little ridiculous given that you could literally see the entrances to these bunkers through the Ministry of Defence's (MOD) fences.
Steve chipped in, "it's like, you said in the foreword of the book, actually, 'if you're gonna hide your secret somewhere as the military then fair enough, but if you're going to put them somewhere so blatantly obvious, you know, you're asking for trouble, aren't you?" He added, "you can't expect people not to come looking through your fences if that's how you hide your secrets." Matthew agreed, "yeah, it's right next to the main road where I'm standing on the pavement, you know."
Returning to his copy of the book, Matthew said, "you've got some other acknowledgments, names that I recognise. Mr. Nick Catford of Subterranea Britannica. He's been a friendly guy over the years. Nick McCamley, well, he is the legend, the author. He's written a lot of books. He's actually got a little publishing company which he writes books about this sort of stuff."
Steve said, "I wanted my book to be quite different, because Nick McCamley and David Pollard, they've got the history of these places pretty much sewed up. So, my book is more about the people, all the connections to it, you know, like your stories, and the stories of people who've broken into places that they shouldn't have."
"Plus, there are all the UFO connections and CCC," Steve added, "all the speculation about that and the Trident link and then what's happening in Burlington now, you know, the culture and how it's made people go out and want to explore them, really, and how it's made me want to go out and explore them."
Steve then told Matthew about his visit to the infamous Burlington bunker. He said, "it was a huge bunker that would have held 4,000 people if there was a nuclear war in the UK. It would be where the government went to run the country from. It had loads of telecommunication equipment, and you were driven around it by electric buggies. It had its own broadcast equipment, generators, and I think the biggest laundry in Europe, or something. I don't know who checks that or how accurate that claim is, but so they say. It's just absolutely huge."
Steve explained how his invite to MOD Corsham had come out of the blue. He said, "I think it was because at that time, people were kind of trying their luck and trying to get in to Burlington, and I think they wanted a core of people who were well connected with the people trying to get in, I suppose, to get them on our side."
Steve said that the MOD's aim was to show him and his urbex friends that everything that the ministry had announced in their press releases when they declassified the site in 2004 was the extent of what was there. Steve said, "it was kind of to show us that everything that's down there, we do know about, even if we don't know the details of it, because there was still at least two communications hubs down there."
While on the tour of the underground hideout, Steve was able to dispel a common myth about the bunker, that there was a pub in the underground tunnels. The story is always reported as fact, and even an engineer who helped build the tunnels appeared on Channel 4 News and said there was a pub in the bunker. However, the Steve didn't see anything as plush during his time in Burlington. The only thing that might resemble a pub is the canteen area.
Matthew speculated, "perhaps in Tunnel Quarry or CCC?" Steve did get a tour of the adjoining Tunnel Quarry while underground at Corsham. Tunnel Quarry is a WWII ammunition depot, which is now largely abandoned. However, one area is now home to the legendary CCC bunker. Steve said, "they were very careful not to let them get too close to the edge of CCC."
Photo: © Crown Copyright
Little is known about this facility, as the military has never released any official details. However, a Freedom of Information Act request was made to the MOD asking to what extent the WWII infrastructure remains under Corsham. The MOD released a map showing the surviving WWII areas, but they excluded an area that no longer has any WWII relics in it. This is because it is this area that was converted to CCC. Steve said, "the map inadvertently revealed its location."
As for what goes on in CCC, there are a few cover stories, including that it's a data processing centre, or a software testing facility. Steve said, "this is on the right track. The sensitive software it deals with relates to our main nuclear deterrent, which is the Trident Project." Steve speculates, "at its lowest form, it could be a place where they command the nuclear fleet of submarines. At its highest, it could be the place where the red button is to launch a nuclear strike."
One of Matthew's YouTube subscribers posted a comment in the live chat, "if this is what you can access and see, imagine what stuff is out there that hasn't been seen yet." It's true, there are likely many hidden secrets and unknown locations that we may never be privy to.
Addressing this point, Steve said it's safe to assume that there are redundancies and backup facilities in place. It's likely that these locations are highly protected and hidden from view. With advancements in digital technology, command centres could easily be located in buildings that look like any other industrial facility. The true purpose of these buildings may not be evident to the casual observer.
Matthew summed up the chat by saying, "we've learned a lot. I'm sure people who don't know much about the area are getting a glimpse and they're wondering what's all this about. I've enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing your experiences."
The highlight of the chat was almost 90 rare photos that Steve presented that chart his journey of exploration across the last two decades. Matthew said, "you can't see that in the book, the colour photos are here, and you'll get to read about the significance of them in the book."
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